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Tom Cruise returns for the effective, if uninspired 'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'

Tom Cruise in a trailer for "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back."

See Jack run. Through airports. Across parking lots. Down city streets. Jack runs so much that "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" might have been titled "Jack Sprinter" or even "Jack Strider."

Except that could never happen, because Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, the source material for this and the previous "Jack Reacher" film, are enormously popular, with 100 million copies of 20 novels sold around the world. You don't mess with popularity like that.

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Except that's just what the Reacher films did back in 2012 when Tom Cruise took the role of the all-around bruiser and itinerant righter of wrongs of the title.

It's not that Cruise isn't a fine actor with impeccable action credentials honed in the "Mission: Impossible" series as well as other outings. It's that the novels' Jack Reacher is Mr. Physically Imposing, 6-foot-5 and 220 or so pounds of lean mean fighting machine, and if that image is in your head there's no getting it out.

Still, as this second outing as Reacher emphasizes, Cruise manages to be if not ideal, completely suitable in the part, especially in the violent, no-nonsense fight sequences ably choreographed by second unit director/stunt choreographer Wade Eastwood.

The same is true of "Never Go Back" as a whole. As directed by Edward Zwick, replacing the first film's Christopher McQuarrie, this Reacher outing has its imperfections and its obstacles to overcome, but the strength of the character and the briskness of the action make it acceptable if you are in the mood.

One of the "Never Go Back's" strengths is the character of Army Maj. Susan Turner, well-played by Cobie Smulders ("The Avengers") as a female action hero meant to be fully Reacher's equal.

Now holding down the same job Reacher once had in the Army's military police (before he quit to roam the world attracting trouble), Turner comes to Reacher's attention when they collaborate on a deft bit of police action that opens the film.

Reacher likes the way the major sounds on the phone and promises to look her up next time his wanderings land him in Washington, D.C., which they promptly do.

But when he arrives at her office, Reacher is shocked to be told by a Col. Morgan (Holt McCallany) that Turner has been relived of command and arrested for espionage, with a court martial pending.

Helped by savvy Sgt. Leach (a deft Madalyn Horcher), Reacher starts to nose around, talking to Turner's unhelpful attorney Col. Moorcroft (Robert Catrini) and getting hassled by a pair of operatives from a shadowy corporation that is clearly up to no good.

As is often the case with Reacher, these virtuous deeds get him locked up, thrown into the same military prison as Taylor. Reacher being Reacher, both he and the major are soon back on the street, doing all that running and trying to outsmart the bad guys, especially the stone cold killer known only as the Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), before they run out of breath.

An added complication for Reacher is that he finds out, much to his shock, that he may have a young daughter he knows nothing about, a teenager whose life is jeopardized by her connection to him.

As written by Richard Wenk, Zwick and his regular writing partner Marshall Herskovitz, "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back" by necessity has simplified the novel's rather intricate plot. But, perhaps hoping to bring more balance into Reacher's life, they've made other changes that do not work as well.

And perhaps trying to add balance to an inevitably masculine film, "Never Go Back" involves Reacher in a series of gender-based disputes with Maj. Turner that seem forced.

For similar reasons, "Never Go Back" gives putative daughter Samantha (Danika Yarosh) a much greater presence here than she had in the book. Because Samantha turns out to be that Hollywood staple, the whiny 15-year-old, this does not turn out well.

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And perhaps trying to provide a note of increased jeopardy for its hero, the film has pumped up the lethalness of the Hunter to make it appear that he is fully Reacher's combat equal.

Like many of the film's changes, this is a good idea in theory that does not work so well in practice. Finally, it is counterproductive to the spirit of the thing to have Jack Reacher on the same level as other folks. We love him because he isn't, and it just has to be that way.

'Jack Reacher: Never Go Back'

Rating: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements.

Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

In general release

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